Nekomonogatari (Black) – 04 (Fin)

Shinbou lends Koyomi the oddity-killing sword Heartspan with which to challenge Hanekawa. Koyomi tricks her into coming to him by sending her an SOS text, using her better nature to draw her to him. He proceeds to tell her how he knows her personality has been intact the whole time and she’s been conscious of her actions. He tells her he’ll carry her stress for her, and even die for her. She slices him in half, but the oddity is injured as he his Heartspan inside him. Shinobu appears, heals him, swallows the sword and feeds on Hanekawa, drawing out the curse cat. Hanekawa loses all memory of the last nine days, and Koyomi decides he’s not in love with her, and will await someone else to fall for.

Whew, talk about an epic showdown, even by Monogatari standards. Sure, this final fourth of the Curse Cat arc is mostly talk, but pertinent, substantive talk. And the action that does take place is more visceral than ever, with Koyomi getting literally halved. We were hoping Koyomi would have some kind of plan going into his battle with Hanekawa Curse Cat, and he did, from the way he effortlessly summoned her (using her kindness against her) to the way he hid his trump card (swallowing a big-ass sword). Shinobu’s appearance  in which he scolds him then schools him on how to properly use it, was also deliciously awesome. (We also learn how she gets that helmet). Prior to the battle, Oshino tries to get Koyomi to understand: Hanekawa isn’t faultness in all this; in fact, he believes her entire situation is all her fault.

She lives every minute of every day in a flawless state of kindness and benevolence, he isn’t surprised her very-flawed parents couldn’t stand to live with her. (Koyomi even wonders if “family” is like an oddity to her.) But Koyomi doesn’t blame Hanekawa for being true to herself, even if it ends up hurting herself or others. After all, like the dead cat in the road, he was also an object of potential pity and sympathy as a recently-turned vampire whom Hanekawa saved, cared for, and taught him how to feel for others, without the slightest hint of pity or sympathy for him. She treated them as equals. And he’ll always be grateful for that, even if he and she will never be lovers. One other note: we like how the end of this miniseries butts right up against the very beginning of Bakemonogatari when Koyomi catches Senjougahara. Things seem primed to get right back down to business. We love endings that are also beginnings.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

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Nekomonogatari (Black) – 03

 

One night, Koyomi sneaks into Hanekawa’s house, but is horrified to learn that not one of its six rooms belongs to her, and flees in terror. He convinces his sisters not to act on the rumors of a monster cat roaming town and stay home, and pays another visit to Oshino, who has lost twenty times to the curse cat, which is far stronger than it usually would be because it chose to assimilate Hanekawa. Koyomi goes to school and encounters the cat there, who tells him she’s helping her master relieve stress, and to leave her be until it’s all gone. Koyomi, realizing that will never happen, realizes he likes Hanekawa to the point he would die for her.

Things get really intense in this segment, as we learn more about the cursed cat who has possessed Hanekawa, tore Koyomi’s arm off, and is terrorizing citizens. A traditional legend of the cursed cat is told by Oshino (through use of a very nicely-illustrated picture scroll): the moral of the story is there is no human who is 100% virtuous. Every human life is a balance of light and dark, and one cannot exist without the other. The curse cat was merely the catalyst for Hanekawa Tsubasa to finally unleash her long-repressed dark side, after accumulating monumental amounts of stress from her horrid parents.

Not only has Hanekawa given the curse cat levels of power and strategy it could previously only dream of (normally being a weak, low-level oddity), but the manner in which Hanekawa buried it makes it feel like it owes her a debt, and so has a vested interest in letting Hanekawa attack people as a “stress-buster”. Of course, the source of that stress will only replenish it after a time, causing a vicious cycle. Koyomi points this out, and the cat doesn’t really care. So letting the cat be and doing nothing isn’t really an option, especially considering Koyomi truly cares for Hanekawa, more now than he ever thought possible. He can’t let the cat have her forever, nor can he let Oshino kill her.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

 

Nekomonogatari (Black) – 02

Koyomi comes to Oshino’s place so Shinobu can feed off him, but she wants donuts first. Koyomi tells Oshino about his encounter with Hanekawa, including when they bury a silver cat with no tail. Oshino takes this as very bad news; he goes to exhume the corpse and tells Koyomi to check on Hanekawa. On his way to her house, Koyomi spots Hanekawa in her underwear, sporting cat ears and carrying the unconscious bodies of her stepparents. The “Curse Cat” has taken over her body, and rips his arm off. He wakes up next to Shinobu, mostly healed. Oshino tells Koyomi to sit back and let a pro take care of the situation from here.

The moments in these Monogatari animes when the oddity is finally revealed are always visceral and chilling, and the Curse Cat’s is no different, suddenly appearing in the background while Koyomi is riding his bike. She moves like a cat, talks like a cat (if cats could talk, that is) and abjures clothing like a cat, and when Koyomi dares speak out of turn, she literally bites his arm clean off, causing a fountain of blood. Koyomi may part-vampire, but he’s still human enough to be killed by this cat.

Since this is a prequel to Bakemonogatari, we’re aware of incidents in which Koyomi has seen the horrors that oddities have wrought: he was turned by an adult Shinobu prior to this, after all. But this case is made more disturbing by the fact Hanekawa is a friend. Just after his better judgement warned him not to meddle in Hanekawa’s family affairs, Oshino tells him there’s nothing he can do to help Hanekawa. After all, Koyomi is still a tourist in the supernatural world, lacking the skill or ability to influence it. Which must be quite frustrating!


Rating: 8 (Great)

Nekomonogatari (Black) – 01

It’s Golden Week, and Koyomi (Kamiya Hiroshi) seeks advice from Tsukihi (Iguchi Yuka) about whether he’s in love. After much discussion, they conclude he’s sexually frustrated and should buy porn. On his way out the door he encounters Karen (Kitamura Eri), back from a marathon-length run, who gives him a much more direct definition of love. While out shopping Koyomi spots Hanekawa Tsubasa (Horie Yui), and after flipping her skirt, they go for a walk. She tells him how she has no family and how her non-biological parents couldn’t care less about her. He heals the bruise on her face where her stepdad slapped her and goes home, more depressed than ever.

Here is part one in a four-part series that will focus on Hanekawa Tsubasa and her family, which takes place after Koyomi is turned into a vampire, but before he meets his eventual first girlfriend, Senjougahara. The story is pretty simple: Koyomi believes he may have fallen for Hanekawa, seeks his sisters’ advice, and ends up pitying Hanekawa’s sad living situation. Like the other Monogatari series, it is heavy on style, Nisio Isin’s long conversations thick with wordplay and metahumor, gorgeously-designed settings, buildings, and rooms, color cards, intense closeups and facial expression, and weird fanservice.

Shinbo Akiyuki‘s unique, playful style is not for everyone, but we for one enjoy the offbeat, avant-garde presentation. The most mundance actions (like Karen drinking water or Koyomi flipping Hanekawa’s skirt) are given almost comically epic visual prominence. I liken Shinbo to Wes Anderson or even Kubrick, as a director with a very consistent aesthetic who is obsessively detail-oriented. What little action ever occurs in the talky episodes is made more engaging due to its rarity. So much anime – even very good anime – is by-the-numbers, visually. Shinbo always seeks to not only to ignore the numbers, but replace them with other symbols.


Rating: 8 (Great)